Ready, aim, fire

With more than 40 years in fire protection, Martin Reiss’s knowledge and experience in the engineering field takes him around the world working with clients and fire officials.

October 11, 2010

Who: Martin (Mickey) Reiss, PE, FSFPE

What: President and CEO, The RJA Group Inc.

Where: Boston, MA

Why: Having new challenges and lots of fun each day.

About: With more than 40 years in fire protection, Mickey’s knowledge and experience in the engineering field takes him around the world working with clients and fire officials while giving presentations on new technology, codes and standards, and applications of fire protection systems. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mickey was elected to the NFPA Board of Directors in 1992 and served as chair from 2000 to 2002. He also serves or has served on the boards of the National Institute of Building Sciences, World Organization of Building Officials, and Society of Fire Protection Engineers, in addition to serving as chair of the WPI Fire Protection Program Board of Advisors.

When you first wanted to be something in life, what was it?

I was typical of many young kids in that I wanted to be a major league baseball player. Even though it obviously did not occur, last year I had the exciting opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The cheering of the crowd when I actually threw the ball over home plate was a great experience.

What kink in the road changed your path?

When I went into the Air Force shortly after graduating from MIT, my assignment was to be a project officer on missile guidance systems. This provided me the opportunity to visit system contractors around the United States. It also changed my focus from being an engineer to being a technical manager of the overall systems effort, and I realized that there is much to be learned by traveling. Since then, I have enjoyed building companies with a global vision where I could have some small impact on creating opportunities for the associates with whom I have the privilege to work.

What did you learn from that, and how do you use it now?

There is a significant difference between being an engineer and being a consultant. An engineer concentrates on the engineering challenge. The consultant must also focus on the needs of the client.

What life adventure do you have yet to accomplish?

My career has allowed me to travel around the United States and overseas for many years. During these trips for both business and pleasure, I have visited some of the most wonderful locations and met so many interesting people along the way. This has been a life adventure. The only thing that I have yet to do is go hang-gliding in some of the locations that I have previously visited and that I still hope to do in the near future.

What’s your go-to source for when you’re dumbfounded by an electrical engineering problem?

At RJA, our consultants do not ask me for solutions to electrical engineering problems as they are kind enough to recognize that it is the younger engineers who are more likely to have the answers. If I run into a problem myself, I always ask Ralph Transue, a retired RJA executive who is now on The RJA Group Board of Directors. For years, he has been the go-to resource in the company for electrical engineering.

What do you look forward to at the end of the day?

When I get home or back to the hotel room when traveling, the first thing I do is to look at the news on TV. This allows me to see what is happening in the rest of the world after spending the day in the world of RJA.

What do you remind yourself of often, and why?

Traveling around the world continually reminds me of how lucky I was to be born in the United States. It has given me the ability to accomplish both personal and professional achievements that could not have happened anywhere else. The ability to work with such an outstanding group of people in a profession where we save lives and protect property while always “doing the right thing” is a true blessing.

What is working well for the engineering profession?

Even though there is a shortage of young engineers, those that have chosen the profession are outstanding young people. They are very desirous to be mentored by senior staff as part of their professional development. They are also committed not only to providing solutions to the technical issues but to also making our world a better place to live. I see this every day at RJA where my daily contacts with the staff show me their enthusiasm and desire to learn while building a career.

What is not working well for the engineering profession?

The economy dominates the ability to work on projects. With the current downturn, there is simply not enough work and many engineers are being let go to find other means of employment. Unfortunately, some of these bright people will not return to the engineering profession.

What do you wonder about?

With the rapid pace for advances in technology, I wonder where the profession of fire protection engineering will be in the next 10 to 20 years. Technology combined with creative people will produce amazing things and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the future.

What do you want to learn more about, just out of curiosity?

How I can better understand the women in my life. I have yet to find an engineering solution to this dilemma.